10 Ways to Develop Yourself Photographically

10 Ways to Develop Yourself Photographically

1. Find Inspiration

A painter once said, “The soul of art is inspiration.” I couldn’t agree more. I can’t count on two hands the number of times I continued to work on a shoot because I was inspired by the light, or got up in the middle of the night to brainstorm a shoot idea because I was inspired by the movie I just watched. Inspiration has a power to drive us artists in a way that few things can. This being the case, it is so important that we seek inspiration in our working and off hours.

Developing technology has blessed us with many opportunities to find inspiration and tuck it away for when it’s needed most. Sites like Pinterest or even flickr allow you to harness the power of visual imagery from blogs, sites, magazines, or even your own pictures. I’ll give fair warning to you though: Pinterest may become your next inspiration obsession.

2. Find Causes and Run with Them

There are few things more rewarding than finding ways to use your photos to support a cause you believe in. Generally most nonprofit organizations – especially the smaller ones – are ecstatic to have a photographer offer to assist their cause. Volunteer your services in whatever way they may need and you will grow as a person, as a storyteller, and as a photographer. Need ideas on where to start? Seth Godin’s “Tales of the Revolution: True Stories of People who are Poking the Box and Making a Difference” is an incredible resource to help you brainstorm.

3. Find Time to Develop

How often do we really just take the time to develop our craft? Many professional photographers agree that it’s easy to pick up a camera for jobs – but will do so on few other occasions. Take a challenge like 365 Project and push yourself develop the eyes to see art all around you – and share that with others.

4. Find Resources

There is a proverb that says “there is nothing new under the sun.” In the area of art, we create when inspiration and our own innovation collide. Discovering new perspectives is a critical part of our photographic development. When was the last time you went to an Art Gallery? Be it local or part of a museum, routine visits to an Art Gallery gives way for you to explore art through other artists eyes.

5. Find Your Loves

What things in life give you intense pleasure and enjoyment? Those are the things to take pictures of. We never grow tired of the things that we really love – that give us refreshment and perspective. Returning to these loves in both conceptually in the creative process and practically subject matter will make room for photographic exploration.

6. Find Community

Camaraderie in creativity is a fantastic resource for our artistic development. Finding a photographic community – or creating a group yourself will provide collaboration, fellowship, and a lot of fun. With PUGs, FTP groups and more, there are plenty of opportunities for you to dive into a community.

7. Find New Vantage Points

Many of us have heard the old adage: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” So why is it so difficult to apply this to our art? Take a risk. Try a new idea. The real deal of art is to never put yourself in a box – so take steps outside your comfort zone with concepts, with shoots, with editing. You may be surprised by what new discovery you find yourself in love with.

8. Find Local Experts

Gone are the days of “trade secrets” and tight-lipped professionals who do everything in their power to stay on top. Today’s photographic industry is full of individuals who are more concerned with connecting and helping than the bottom line. Take some time to hunt down professionals in your area whom you respect and admire – both personally and in their work. After you have a small list gathered, contact these individuals and inquire as to if they would be willing to get together with you over coffee for questions and discussion. Who knows, while you may be looking for a mentor, that photographer just may be looking for someone to invest in.

9. Find Honest Critique

It’s difficult to critique your own work – after all, you know the backstory, you are biased to the reasons why you took the shot, etc. In the past we’ve explored some ways to critique your own work, but sometimes we just need the strong, non-nonsense critique of others. If you have built a photographic community, or know a local expert, try to schedule a time they may be able to conduct a review and critique of your work. The feedback you gain will give some good indicators of specific areas you may need to develop.

10. Find Your SWOT

If you really want to invest developing as a photographer, conduct a SWOT of yourself. Strengths. Weaknesses. Opportunities. Threats. Be honest and objective as you work this analysis, and then brainstorm a plan to maximize and grow each of these areas.

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

Some Older Comments

  • Kim September 9, 2012 12:41 am

    Wonderful article, Christina. To me, the most important thing is to shoot every day and just notice what attracts your eye. It could be the simplest thing. Also, there are so many great resources online to provide inspiration and new ways of doing photography. Your suggestion to volunteer for an organization is a great one too. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Michael Stagg | Light Scribe Photo September 9, 2012 12:19 am

    These are a nice set of guide posts here, Christina! I definitely resonate with 2, 5 and 10. Thanks for sharing!

  • Rachael November 24, 2011 05:13 am

    Can't agree with these points more. I tend to not take enough pictures and therefore have been developing as a photographer very slowly. For this reason I will be starting the 365 Project in 2012 and am posting the results to my blog ( http://rsphotography85.blogspot.com/ ) for people to critique me on!

  • maureen November 20, 2011 06:50 pm

    Your article is exactly what I beleive. I am in the throes of trying to get together a group of like minded people with a professional photographer so we can learn what all beginners what to know and use.

  • khushi solanki November 20, 2011 04:35 pm

    hi Christina
    i saw your article first.
    Then i read it.......and now i am studying it
    i thought i knew all those 10 points and took them fro granted
    upon Swot.......i realizes that i am not progressing much
    your timely article has motivated me
    i am fairly new in DP world...just about 18-20 months
    but i want to enjoy....what i am doing
    many thanks
    khushi solanki

  • Joe Elden November 19, 2011 02:03 pm

    Very well written. Amazingly, I recently asked a local photographer who's work I admired if I could buy him breakfast and ask him a few questions about the photo biz. He responded by saying that if I met him at his favorite little diner he'd treat me!

  • Granmeri C November 19, 2011 08:07 am

    Thanks for some good hints. To Nathan--I get around the 8 wasted hours (work!) by just dragging the camera with me at all times. I go to work about 4:30 am & have caught some neat sunrises & deserted street scenes--
    and you never know when you'll see something good between home & the grocery store! My problem is that I live in a small town & am short of time & courage to meet other photonuts, so I have trouble getting critiques.

  • Paul November 18, 2011 10:43 pm

    Great little article, have seen similar ones before, but do you know what - I still find them refreshing. As a wedding photographer I find it very relevant. Thanks

  • David P November 18, 2011 08:45 pm

    Try joining a photographic or camera club, experts are available to comment on your work, and you meet other people with the same interests. Competitions can boost your self esteem, or give you ideas about how to have taken your shots differently.

    Google "Photographic alliance of Great Britain (for UK), follow the link for federations then for clubs

  • Malice November 18, 2011 08:01 pm

    Very useful! Thank you!

  • Low November 18, 2011 06:34 pm

    I am a newbie who always uses the Auto mode. I wantd to learn more about the ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed but always gets very confused. In fact on application I just could not figure how to use them. I sounds ok reading it, buthow is the best way to apply them.


  • Harry November 18, 2011 04:06 pm

    Jusr read my First newsletter and still trying to figure out my camera and trying to understand al the whatsis all about it. At 80, this is a challenge,but I am sure this will be fun and a rewarding experience. Thank you and all your contributersand ...watch this space.. regards .. Harry

  • Yenny November 18, 2011 03:21 pm

    #8......agree with all mentioned about #8. It's just impossible.

  • Lui November 18, 2011 02:06 pm

    Point 9, critique is precious for me.

  • TL Wood November 18, 2011 01:02 pm

    I like this article. However when abbreviations are used it can be a bit frustrating. in point #6 ......What are PUG's and FTP's ??

  • Mai November 18, 2011 10:21 am

    #8... totally disagree here. In addition to the other comments made about #8, it's naive to suggest that in the current hardscrabble economic climate professional photographers are more interested in "...connecting and helping than the bottom line"? And, "professionals who do eveything in their power to stay on top" is STILL the way it's done in the real world!

    The real tangible benefits in striving to be successful in such tough times is that you're forced to look really hard at who you are, what you do, how you do it. These are the times when the mold breakers, the envelope pushers gets noticed.

    Points 6 & 7 are very important right now, as well.

  • LesBoucher November 18, 2011 08:06 am

    Great article and one worth bearing in mind.

    If I had to add anything it would be "Know your equipment". I am continually encouraging people to get to know their camera, lens etc. It doesn't matter if you only have a point and shoot you have to understand what that piece of equipment can do. For example, if your camera has programs - and what camera's don't these days - don't just sit back and use them in the situation stipulated by your instruction book. Say you have a program such as sunsets why not try it out in other situations? Who knows you might just get that "Picture of a life time" At the very worst you will learn what your camera is capable of and what its constraints are.
    I guess what I am saying here is experiment, use your manual settings, use your programs and don’t just sit back and snap away with your new piece of equipment set on auto.

  • Jon M November 18, 2011 07:45 am

    @Carolyn: How about the 100 Strangers Project, http://www.flickr.com/groups/100strangers/. You must approach 100 different strangers, photograph them, learn a little about them and ask them to agree to have their photo posted online.

  • Wayne Lam Creative Media Director November 18, 2011 05:35 am

    "I Agree to Inspiration" As a working Professional Vancouver Wedding Photographer + Videographer I often work on my own project when I find the time. This keep me fresh and challenge, thing I will learn from this fun project. I believe if you are not in the mood to shoot just do something that will inspire you like Christina N Dickson say. Take a walk, look at nature (walk at different time of the day, you will amaze what you have not seem or discover), watch a movie, watch Discovery Channel, go to a Art Gallery ...like to music that will pump you. When your mind is ready you are willing to create more beautiful work! My work has been influence by Painter, Sculpture, Nature, Fashion, Movie, Magazine, Music and Fine Art. So let the creative flow when you are ready and your work will goes to the next level! Mind over matter! Not doing something you have too but something you LOVE!

    Wayne Lam : Creative + Media Director
    Waynes World Studio Media Production: Art of Storytelling
    Photography: FantasyWeddingPhotography
    2d + 3d Videography: 3dVancouverWedding

  • Mindy November 18, 2011 05:21 am

    #8 is a bit difficult - yes, it would be great to be able to walk into a master's studio and present oneself to soak up his or her expertise. But is that fair? He or she has spent years and countless dollars learning his or her craft - why should we expect to receive that for free? I am certainly no master, but I often have people ask if they can shadow me while I work or if I can teach them how to use a camera. And people regularly ask me where I get my work printed. No, you can't shadow me - that's not fair to my subjects - but I do offer photography classes. And I charge a reasonable fee for those, because I am giving my time and knowledge. And no, I won't tell you where I get my work printed, because having top-notch prints, canvases and special products is what sets me apart from all the weekend photographers who just shoot and burn. If you want that knowledge, you'll have to work through the process of trying different labs and paying for sample prints like every other photographer has to do. I love photography and it is my passion, but it is also my business and my source of income. I wouldn't expect to walk into someone's studio and demand that they pour knowledge into my head for free - we as learners need to be respectful and prepared to pay a fair price to our teachers.

  • Kathryn November 18, 2011 03:42 am

    I love all the pieces of advice, but #8 is tricky. I have contacted several photographers in my area that I admire and asked to meet with them, shadow them, or whatever. I have only had one person who was interested and basically he wanted me to be his gopher. Granted, I would have learned a lot, I am sure, but he really wanted someone to help him with office things, setting up and even some second shooting, basically keep him running. He also wanted me to sign a two year no compete clause. I just heard back yesterday from a girl I admire and she said she has had several request and might offer a workshop. With all that said, I think finding a local is a tough thing to do! I did join a Portrait Photography Meet Up group and have really learned a lot! Thanks for the great article!

  • Nathan November 14, 2011 09:53 pm

    I wish I had time to do more with my photography, especially to do a 365 project. How do people that work full time find the time to do photography afterwards?

  • Dewan Demmer November 13, 2011 10:37 pm

    A Good snapshot look at how to develop.
    These are interesting that while true are not the easiest to appreciate. I know for myself I sometime struggle to find the inspiration, whether its a cause or something I love.
    I like the 365 day project, however I don't see it a way true way to develop, it does teach how to find new things and enable a certain creativity at the same time I find that eventually the struggle to be creative happens, you now have to energize yourself to be creative instead of just doing.
    Find others who you consider better than yourself is an excellent way to develop, the more you around those better than yourself the more inclined you will be to up the quality and just do better.
    Critique is a mixed bag, honest opinions can life you to new heights as soon as crush you, so be prepared for honest constructive comments, they will help, they wont always be nice but so long they constructive learn. Just realize not every comment is fair or just, try to recognize the value in comments and dispose of the mean spirited.

    My bit is always try something new, a different angle a different lens, so long you stepping outside your comfort zone you will learn and as you learn you develop.
    Learn to self critique fairly, be honest with yourself with what is good and what can be improved.
    I work with these rule and I hope it is making me better, every photo is a work in progress.
    Drop by my site and if you feel an image worthy of comment ( good or bad ) please let me know.

  • James B. November 12, 2011 04:18 pm

    Good points, I agree with finding new vantage points I shoot mostly Lomographs and one of the most important points is finding different views. Thanks for the tips Joey G.

  • photomiser November 12, 2011 04:13 pm

    In a similar vein, join up with groups who may not be photographers, but go places or do things that are worth photographing. I'm thinking in particular of nature photography...join botanical walks or birding trips to find places and subjects you'd never learn about on your own.

  • ccting November 12, 2011 02:11 pm

    thereotical , conceptual and practical..

  • Eric Magnuson November 12, 2011 10:33 am

    I also can't stress number 3 more, especially a 365 project. I did this two years ago, and it was a definitive moment in my learning photography. By forcing yourself to take a photo everyday, you train your eye to start seeing what you normally don't. 365 projects are the single best way to improve your vision.

  • Carolyn November 12, 2011 08:12 am

    I've been working on a Project 365 to help me learn. Almost done with it! Wondering what to do next.

    My P365

  • My Camera World November 12, 2011 04:20 am

    These are all great ideas since the key to improvement is to challenge yourself in some endeavor. The harder part is finding which venue you are truly passionate about and therefore you won't really worry about others critiques. Because you are too busy enjoying yourself.

    Some other links that may provide useful ideas.

    10-best-methods-to-take-great photographs
    Creativity Ideas

  • Ed November 12, 2011 04:18 am

    Probably the best piece offered by DPS in all the years I've been getting their daily articles. Both practical and, yes, metaphysical challenging both sides of the brain.
    Thank you.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck November 12, 2011 02:59 am


    This is a great article. I like the "find local experts" portion. A while back I joined a Pro-Am Photography Meetup group in San Diego. The experts there stepped us through Studio Lighting techniques and gear in a few short sessions with Pro Models. I could have read a dozen books (and I have) and still not have come to speed as fast! Now we have our own Studio.

    Here is an example and short note on Rembrandt Lighting:


  • Mridula November 12, 2011 02:55 am

    In agreement with 5 and 6 completely.

  • Chris November 12, 2011 02:26 am

    This was an excellent article! Thanks for it!

  • Laurie Young November 12, 2011 01:50 am

    I can't agree with point 3 strongly enough! How can any of us ever expect to get better if we don't practice our photography?

    Though this wasn't always obvious to me. In fact it was only recently, while listening to a podcast that it dawned on me. It was a real AH HA moment for me, and I immediately set out to change the way I think about improving my skills. As well as starting to practice more, I set up a flickr group for practice shots and wrote an article about how to become a great photographer.